Zoos and Aquariums: Harmful or Helpful?

In recent years, there has been a major pushback on zoos in America. Many pro-animal organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have written articles showing the ways animals are being treated in zoos. There have also been opposing groups, saying that the animals are treated with care. There have been cases in favor of both sides, but is there a right answer?

Zoos average a profit of roughly $22.5 billion annually in America. They are a large contributor to the economy and have over 200 locations in just the United States. The profit is unignorable and shows how much animal showcases are enjoyed by the masses. The main argument that the pro-zoos side often makes is that zoos are needed for the conservation of animals and endangered species. On August 14th, 2022, a 7-year-old Red Panda was brought back to a zoo in Australia, where they are hoping to breed the endangered species. According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), 54% of accredited zoos are non-profit. Most animals that are in zoos now were either rescued or born at the zoo. While these statistics sound very positive, there have been articles documenting negative treatments at zoos and aquariums as well. 

Animals in captivity usually develop a condition called zoochosis. Zoochosis is a behavior disorder that animals in captivity develop. Symptoms can include vomiting, self-mutilation, tics that show stress or anxiety, rocking back and forth, pacing, and random biting. These symptoms often contribute to attacks at zoos. An infamous case was with Tilikum the Killer Whale at Seaworld. On July 19, 2013, a documentary was released called Blackfish. It detailed what happened behind the scenes at Seaworld through interviews of ex-workers. Tilikum was a whale that was in captivity at Seaworld until its death on January 6th, 2017. Tilikum was in captivity for years and would have multiple outbursts, resulting in 3 deaths. They knew he was a danger at the amusement park, but they needed a male orca to breed with the female whales. Tilikum was the father of 21 calves while at Seaworld. Tilikum was demonized by Seaworld for his outbursts, but the conditions he was put in were not his choice. After the documentary, Seaworld received loads of backlash, so they have been making efforts to improve their animal treatment at their parks.

There is no definitive answer to this debate. While discourse will continue, both sides are making moves to help animals and endangered species. 

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